Every couple of months, I meet for brunch with a wonderful woman who used to report to me at Google for 4+ years. We talk about career development, our mutual obsession with food and travel, and everything in between. As she’s grown in her career, she’s become a manager herself. At a recent brunch date, she mentioned how one of her direct reports (let's call her Jane) came to an all-day strategy planning meeting in workout clothes and with wet hair, like she'd come straight from the gym but didn't bother changing. Jane works remotely and rarely gets a chance to interact with the team in person. Even though Google is a "casual" dress company, this sent a clear signal that there was no thought that went into her professional presentation. Gym clothes are for the gym, not work.
My mentee was flabbergasted because she thought it was completely unprofessional and didn’t show respect for herself or the team. She wondered whether she should have a conversation with Jane or not. What would she say? Would she get in trouble with HR? Regardless of how she chose to address it, one thing was certain...her opinion of Jane was not positive.
The way we dress at work is one of the least talked about subjects. When it is discussed, it’s almost never with the person directly, especially when the image is not favorable. No one wants to touch this subject with a ten-foot pole. It’s so damn uncomfortable for everyone involved and an often-avoided conversation.
In short, no one is going to tell you if your professional image isn’t working in your favor. It is something you need to check in on regularly by being really honest with yourself and then make necessary modifications, as needed.
We all know that our image can be powerfully persuasive on a semi-conscious level…especially when it comes to making decisions around promotions, raises, opportunity for more visibility, being offered new challenges, winning new business, and much more, yet often times, we put the least amount of effort into this aspect of our personal brand.
While your behaviors, skills, and knowledge are also extremely important, they aren't the only things that matter in your career advancement. Your physical presentation must be seriously considered too and if a few modifications are necessary and made, it can net instant results in your career.
Taking caring of your image = self-respect and confidence
Could you be in need of an image upgrade? Here are three key things you want to keep in mind:
1. Be relevant
When one dresses in a fresh and modern way, others associate them with being relevant, adaptable, and confident. You want your image to send the message to your colleagues and clients that you are adaptable to change, flex with the times, and are looking forward. I’m not talking about being trendy. I’m talking about staying current and up to date in your own style. There is a difference. If the “uniform” you’re wearing to work is mostly made up of clothes that are 3+ years old, it’s time for a refresh. As the Black Eyes Peas sang….”I’m so 3008. You so 2000…and late.” Don’t be 2000 and late.
2. Dress one notch nicer than your peers
Why? Because it sends a clear signal that you’re ready for that next level up in your career. You’re also more likely to be given higher visibility opportunities due to the level of confidence it conveys. Jane is an example of what NOT to do. Take a chance on dressing to impress rather than disappoint.
3. Know your style
The way we dress is a non-verbal reflection of how we see ourselves. While every company has its own dress code, there is always an opportunity to project your unique personality through your dressing style. Find a way to communicate a bit about who you are through your choice of clothing, accessories, and shoes. Whether your personality is sporty, sophisticated, playful, easy going, or serious (and so many more options), take a chance on introducing this into how you dress.
Identify three words that you would use to describe your personality and see whether or not they are being communicated in the way you dress. How else could you bring in more of your authentic self into your style?
Create a memorable style without betraying your company culture. Be consistent in delivering your unique style each day.
To sum it up, if you’re not paying attention to your image, then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to achieve the career you desire. There’s no time like the present to take inventory on what your image says about you (if you're struggling, you can hire me to help you...wink wink). Not only that but this process doesn’t ever end…you’ll need to regularly review your image. Stay fresh! I highly doubt that stale will ever become the new fresh, if you get my drift.
If you’d like some more tips on how to rock your image, here are a few more resources:
And now, it really does feel like the right time to say my favorite phrase…